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Fly Shops and Undead Typewriters

Posted on April 28 2011

The closing of Kaufmann’s — a virtual institution in the U.S. northwest — has a lot of loyal customers scratching their heads, but not so many industry insiders. The problem of how to keep local fly shops alive rises almost to the level of the question of how to get more kids involved in the sport. But as Kirk Deeter points out on Fly Talk this morning, the Kaufman’s closure may signal that having a brand associated with expertise and tradition may not be enough: “[T]he Kaufmann brothers (Randall and Lance) wielded considerable influence over the fly fishing world. The ‘Stimulator’ fly was a Kaufmann creation, along with many others. International fly fishing travel…the Kaufmanns were the vanguard.”

As Sean Silverthorne writes in his Harvard Business Review column, passion isn’t the only necessary ingredient for success. In “4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Do What You Love,” he describes a friend who loved to fly fish and decided to open a fly shop. “It turns out my friend had a great business, which he discovered after he sold out to one of his investors — someone who had his own passion to grow a small business using proven business principles.”

Predictions of an early death for any business segment are usually just that: early. On the other hand, last week’s much-questioned headline “Last Typewriter Factory Left In The World Closes Its Doors” is a perfect example of how headlines — even when inaccurate — often reveal the truth. NPR followed up the story yesterday with an interview with a Godrej and Boyce manager who said that the company in fact stopped making typewriters in 2009 and had retrained its workers to make appliances.

How many fly shops are on life-support right now? How many just need good business managers to come in and turn a passion for the sport into real cash flow? Or are we trying to sell manual typewriters to a world of lightning-thumbed mobile device addicts? It’s anybody’s guess.

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